CANCUN, Mexico -- Hurricane Delta rapidly intensified into a dangerous Category 4 storm with 145 mph winds Tuesday while following a course to hammer southeastern Mexico and then continue on to the U.S. Gulf Coast later in the week.
The worst of the immediate impact was expected along the resort-studded northeastern tip of Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, where hurricane conditions were expected Tuesday night and landfall early today.
From Tulum to Cancun, tourism-dependent communities still soaked by the remnants of Tropical Storm Gamma could bear the brunt of the storm.
In Cancun Tuesday, long lines stretched at supermarkets, lumber yards and gas stations as residents scrambled for provisions under mostly sunny skies. Officials warned that residents should have several days of water and food on hand. Boat owners lined up at public ramps to pull their boats out of the water.
Mexico began evacuating tourists and residents from coastal areas along its Riviera Maya Tuesday. Quintana Roo Gov. Carlos Joaquin said that buses were carrying people off Holbox Island and hotels in Cancun and Puerto Morelos were busing their guests inland to government shelters.Gallery: Hurricane Delta
Some hotels that had exemptions because their structures were rated for major hurricanes were preparing to shelter their guests in place and testing their emergency systems.
The official definition of rapid intensification of a hurricane is 35 mph in 24 hours. Delta has increased in strength 80 mph, more than doubling from a 60 mph storm at 1 p.m. CDT Monday to 140 mph at 1 p.m. CDT Tuesday.
Cancun Mayor Mara Lezama Espinosa said that the city had opened more shelters than usual to give people more space in recognition of the covid-19 pandemic.
State Tourism Minister Marisol Vanegas said there were currently 40,900 tourists in all of Quintana Roo. That number is a fraction of what it would normally be because of the covid-19 pandemic.
The state ordered all non-essential businesses to close by 1 p.m. and banned the sale of alcohol. Hurricane-strength winds were expected by Tuesday evening and landfall to occur near Puerto Morelos just south of Cancun between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. today.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday that 5,000 federal troops and emergency personnel were being made available in Quintana Roo to aid in storm efforts.
It was predicted to arrive with an extremely dangerous storm surge raising water levels by as much as 9 to 13 feet in the Yucatan, accompanied by large and dangerous waves, and flash flooding inland.
Delta's center late Tuesday afternoon was about 215 miles east-southeast of Cozumel, Mexico, and it was moving west-northwest at 17 mph.
Once it moves on from Mexico, it's expected to regain Category 4 status over the Gulf as it approaches the U.S. coast, where landfall around Friday would be followed by heavy rainfall across the southeastern United States.
"While there is large uncertainty in the track and intensity forecasts, there is a significant risk of dangerous storm surge, wind, and rainfall hazards along the coast from Louisiana to the western Florida panhandle beginning Thursday night or Friday," the Hurricane Center said.
Information for this article was contributed by Seth Borenstein. Jay Reeves, Melinda Deslatte, David Koenig, Tomas Stargardter and Mark Stevenson of The Associated Press.